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Will the Credit Crunch & tech troubles trip up Disney's new Blu-ray push ?

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Will the Credit Crunch & tech troubles trip up Disney's new Blu-ray push ?

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This is not how Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment thought this particular retail fairy tale would play out.

Back in January when the Mouse announced that "Sleeping Beauty" would be the first Disney Platinum Edition title to be released on Blu-ray, executives in that division of the Walt Disney Company hoped that this Hi-Def disc would help convince consumers that they really needed to adopt the next generation of DVD technology.

Unfortunately, nine months later, a worldwide credit crunch has U.S. consumers reconsidering their spending habits. Which isn't exactly the best time to try & sell shoppers on the idea that they now need to revamp their home entertainment systems.

To further complicate this situation, one of the key selling points of the "Sleeping Beauty" Blu-ray is that it's the first WDSHE title to make use of BD-Live technology. Which -- provided that you're watching this Hi-Def disc on an Internet-connected player -- will then allow you to experience a whole new level of social networking & interactivity.

"Which means what exactly?," you ask. Well, by taking advantage of BD-Live's many features, you can:

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

  • Through "Movie Chat," watch a movie together with other networked users and chat in real-time by making use of devices like PCs, iPhones or Blackberrys. You can also record images of yourself, superimpose that video within the film that's being shown and then send that clip along to other networked BD-Live users.

  • Through the "Movie Challenge" feature, you and your friends & family will be able to play a title-specific trivia game while watching that movie together. With the points you accumulate, you then "purchase" themed wallpaper & ringtones at the “Disney Movie Rewards Live” shop.

In short, with BD-Live technology, you no longer have to just passively watch a Disney movie. You and your friends & family can now actively take part in the Magic.

The only problem is ... The Blu-ray players that will actually allow you to take advantage of BD-Live technology tend to be the newer, more expensive models. Which typically run $300 - $700 apiece. And given that the coming holiday shopping season is supposed to be the weakest in 17 years ... One wonders who's going to purchase these pricey players. Especially since rumors abound that -- come Black Friday -- the Big Boxes will be selling Blu-ray units for $149 or less.

"So people will still be buying Blu-ray players at the post-Thanksgiving sales," you say. "How is that supposed to hurt the Mouse?" Well, those lower priced machines will most likely not feature an Internet connection. Which means that they won't be BD-Live compatible. Which means that many consumers then won't be able to take advantage of this highly touted WDSHE Blu-ray feature. Which is likely to have some sort of blowback effect on sales levels for these Hi-Def discs.

Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which is really not what Disney and / or the home entertainment industry needed to hear right now. Especially since sales of Blu-ray players have been slower than expected. Thanks -- in large part -- to the fact that many consumers have yet to be convinced that they actually need to upgrade their current DVD set-up.

Still, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment remains committed to this format. Which is why -- back in August -- they announced an ambitious new plan that will (in theory, anyway) help spur Blu-ray sales. This involves the Mouse making five of its more highly-sought-after Platinum Edition titles -- "Pinocchio," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," "Beauty & the Beast," "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000" -- available for purchase in the Blu-ray format.

As you might expect, just like with "Sleeping Beauty," all five of these WDSHE titles will be BD-Live capable. Which (it is hoped) will make these particular Blu-rays highly desirable to those tech-heads & teens who must always have the latest & greatest.

Which is all well & good. Except that Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment wasn't really targeting early adopters with this new Blu-ray initiative. This time around, the Mouse wanted to convince a far large group of consumers that it had to embrace the next generation of DVD technology. Mickey was trying to sell these folks on the idea that they'd really missing out of something special if they didn't upgrade to Blu-ray.

But given the negative impact that the credit crunch has already had on consumer spending levels ... Convincing consumers that they need to upgrade to Blu-ray right now is going to be an uphill battle.

Copyright 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment. All Rights Reserved

Still, it's not all been bad news on the Blu-ray front. Take -- for example -- last week's announcement. When Jon Favreau revealed that -- after two days of being on sale -- the Hi-Def version of "Iron Man" had just become the best selling Blu-ray title of all time.

Disney hopes that -- when "Sleeping Beauty" goes on sale today -- that the Blu-ray version of this 1959 animated classic will eventually able to eclipse "Iron Man" 's sales record. More importantly, that their newest Hi-Def release will then be able to avoid some of the BD-Live related pitfalls that tripped up the Blu-ray version of "Iron Man."

Still, in spite of the Credit Crunch and all of these tech-related concerns, Disney remains committed to Blu-ray. More importantly, BD-Live. In fact, to hear WDSHE president Bob Chapek talk:

" This is not just technology for technology's sake ... (BD-Live may) push (WDSHE) to reach heights that have never been before imagined. (Which is why) every subsequent Disney title will have BD-Live."

But what do you folks think? Was it really wise for Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment to tie its future to a technology like BD-Live? Which seems to place far more importance on interactivity and social networking opportunities than it does on the movies themselves?

Your thoughts?

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  • The blu-ray live features are pointless.  I have never wanted to talk to strangers while watching a movie via the internet.  In fact, at the movies, I wish that other people in the theater would imply shut up.  Just because we have the technology to make movie watching interactive, doesn't mean that it's a good thing.

    And as for interactive trivia quizzes on blu-ray, what percentage of the population uses the non-interactive versions on DVD right now?  I bet it's pretty small.

    So it seems that Disney has spent a lot of time developing new interactive features for a 1959 film.  Wow, if they spent half that much time developing the storytelling and visual artistry of their current features, they wouldn't have to reach into the vault and dust off an old classic every six month to maintain profitability.  

    But you know, just my two cents.

  • I think it's a hard sell when the BD-Live doubles the cost of a Blu-Ray player. But what if you put out a B-R player priced to sell in the $175-200 range that's compatible with more advanced features like BD-L via external devices sold separately. The all-inclusive player still being around for those willing and able to pay for the convenience.

  • Just one more example of clueless execs "managing by spreadsheets", then being baffled when sales figures don't materialize as predicted.

    If they wanted to push unnecessary technology, they needed to push it on HSM and Hannah products - to teenagers who don't know any better, but can be convinced that talking and texting during a movie is cool. Those would be the only consumers that I can think of that don't realize you can sit at home, watch a movie, and talk to your friends on the phone - all at the same time!

    In another 100 years, they will have a new system where a holographic image of Walt sits beside you on the sofa and talks about how difficult it was to get a particular scene to work. Technologically amazing, but after 5 minutes: "Hey Walt, could ya pipe down, I'm trying to watch a movie here."

  • Yeah, Blu-Ray is gorgeous. Really, I've seen it. But it's taken me a LONG time to replace my VHS collection with DVDs, and I'm still not done. The list of DVDs to get grows longer every week, and they come out faster than I can purchase. So until the industry simply stops pumping them out and MAKES us switch to BD, I'll keep saying how gorgeous they look, but I'll keep admiring them on store windows. And I certainly won't be triple-dipping any time soon. I've heard people say they won't buy new DVD releases of the Summer movies because they want to get the BD version, when they finally buy a player. Yeah, like I'm gonna be without a good movie like Iron Man or Indy IV for who knows how long, more than a year for sure, hoping that one day I can get a BD player. I don't know about the US, but I've barely seen players for sale down here in Brazil, and the ones I've seen are like half the price of an LCD, sometimes more than half. And the discs cost 2, 3 times as much as regular DVDs. It's still too expensive, and it really doesn't seem like the same "rush" like it was to switch from VHS to DVD.

  • I think there's always been a risk that Blu-Ray would be the next laserdisc rather than the next DVD.  The success of the DVD format happened because several factors came together to make it a success.  It represented a quality jump from VHS that even the average persno could appreciate.  It mirrored the familiar music CD and presented a similar argument: better quality recordings on a more permanent format than tape.  The studios committed to it pretty quickly and put out lots of titles to woo both tech geeks and the general public.  Both the format and the players became reasonably affordable in a relatively short time.  And the economy was good at the time.  Blu-Ray does look really nice, but I don't know that it's struck the public as a step up to the degree that DVD was from VHS.  Releases are coming out at a pretty god clip, but unlike DVD vs VHS, there aren't extra features you can put on Blu-Ray that you can't have on a DVD for the most part.  A major holiday price drop may help things, but with the economy in the state it's in now, consumers may just decide to wait until their finances are a bit more stable.  The whole competing format thing with HD-DVD early on probably didn't help either, encouraging consumers to wait and see how the format war played out rather than adopt early.  

    I think I'd find Blu-Ray live about as useful as the most kid-aimed features on the Disney DVDs, which is not at all.  There are better and easier ways for me to watch a movie and talk to people I want to talk with about it.  Maybe I'm misunderstanding and there is a way to choose who you talk with, but again, easier ways to do that exist and I certainly don't want to listen to a bunch of random people and bored kids jabber about nothing while I view a film.  The trivia game could be kind of entertaining, but the prizes are a total waste.  "Play our trivia game and win points to 'buy' stuff we'f otherwise give away for free!"

    Since storage space is becoming the major issue with my DVD collection, the format I'm waiting for will either be tiny flash drive or memory card sized movies, or digital downloads will all the features of a DVD and the ability to play on my TV.  Blu-Ray just strikes me less as the next generation of home entertainment and more as an intermediate step and gimmicky add-ons like this aren't going to get me excited about the format.

  • Well, coming from the "mom with kids who's spent a gazillion dollars on Disney stuff" angle...they clearly aren't marketing to me here.  

    Personally, we're trying to cut down on the amount of stuff we buy, not because we can't afford it, but because we've already got too much stuff!  So we'll keep using Netflix, watch the movies on good-old DVD, put them back in the mail and get them out of our house!  I don't want walls and cabinets filled with piles of discs that get watched a few times and then gather dust for years.

    I think if Disney wants to do this successfully, they need to use different titles...more modern, up-to-date stuff that will appeal to the "my car payment's higher than my rent" crowd.  Good luck with that!

    I'm sure my dh will get a blue-ray before long...but there aren't very many discs we plan to buy to go with it.

    Sue in Texas

  • I have to admit that I am purchasing a Blue-Ray player specifically for next month's release of Wall-e. I somewhat agree with MalGragon that BR is not on par with VHS vs. DVD. BUT all TVs going forward will be Hi-Def and DVD will get phased out.

    A Pixar film such as Wall-e deserves a platform like BR. True I am a bit of a techno-geek and the common consumer wont care. No, I don't want to chat with people either while watching a film!

    The old stuff doesn't excite me too much. How much better can a film from the 50s (even if it's been "digitally enhanced") be?? Modern films are indeed the draw for BR. I can just imagine that the workstations at Pixar even have an "Export to Blue-Ray" options when they save their movie! LOL!

  • DVD will not be phased out if Blu-Ray can't grab a larger market share than it has garnered so far.  Good upscaling DVD players will take a standard DVD close enough to true Hi Def for most viewers.  As the upscaling push gets stronger, people will recognize the limited advantages of the Blu-ray format.

    As an earlier poster mentioned, I have always said that the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD fight was the fight over who gets to be the next laserdisc. (That is, successful, but never mainstream.)  If the time since HD-DVD dropped out is any indication, this is what is happening.

  • I agree with most of what's already been said. Blu Ray is cool. The option of interacting with other people is cool. But am I personally interested in it, well...no.

    I suspect that Blu Ray will remain a niche business. I just replaced by old VCR with a VCR/DVD player, so why should I now throw away a perfectly good player? Guess what? I won't. Those into always having the latest stuff will do that but not me.

  • I like Curmudgeon said about a Holographic Walt! Now that would be cool and I would by a player for something like that. However, his current surviving family members may not like that so I suspect it'll be awhile before we ever see anything like that.

  • The average user isn't convinced they need to upgrade and many techies are moving right on to downloads from the Internet.  iTunes/AppleTV and the likeis the future.  Not Blu-Ray.

  • Oh, I dunno.  Blu-ray looks pretty spectacular, sounds incredible, and I've been

    very happy with it for about a year.  Granted, my "player" is a Sony Playstation,

    and has been upgraded to use BD-Live, but I doubt I'll use it much.  I really

    couldn't care less what Heather and Tommy are texting to each other during

    a movie.  I can go to the cineplex for that.  In any case, Blu-Ray beats

    upconverting DVDs or digital downloads any day.

  • That's another thing I'll never get into: downloading movies. I like the feeling of buying my DVDs, of a nice box art, of having my shelves full, having an extra disc filled with bonus. Why would I change sitting comfortably on my sofa to watch a movie to downloading and watching in my 15" notebook? No, thanks. :)

  • My 2 cents -

    BlueRay is a nice step up from DVD but not a big enough step up to justify the price.

    Any 'technology' that encourages people to talk, text, or anything else other than WATCH THE MOVIE is pure evil.

    (On this same note, I'm about ready to stop going to the movie theater all together due to the fact that kids AND adults alike cant be quiet for the duration of a flick)

  • I am in agreement with most of the comments here today.  I think it's a waste of Disney's and the consumers resourses to invest in this technology at this time.  I think the target market is too narrow.  The people that want to text each other during a movie are tweens and teens and after a couple of Hannah/Jonas/HSM type releases then what?  Besides can't you just text and call someone right now using your cell phone?  Why would I need an expensize Blu-Ray Live to do that?  

    Also, what are the security features to prevent predators from targeting underage children through this new technology.  (Especially since Disney seems to be targeting the family market with the list of animated releases that are mentioned in Jim's article.)  As a parent I'm already concerned that kids have too much access to people I don't want them to know.

    On the other hand, since we are talking how the ecomony is affecting Disney's business decisions, I think most of us are interested in how this roller coaster stock market crisis/recession/depression will affect what is happening in the parks, the expansion of the DCL fleet, DVC sales, etc.  Will Disney start cutting construction on in-the-works projects like the new DCA or Night Kingdom?  How will this affect their marketing of their vacation packages?  Are more entertainment cuts coming like the recent eliminations in the parks and the scaled back Fantasmic schedule coming in January?  Hopefully Jim will have some insight into all of this in the next few days.

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